Lance Armstrong missed out on an eighth Tour de France crown this year but, say rivals and admirers, his return to cycling’s showpiece event has fired the sport’s global profile into orbit.
The media’s coverage of cycling in the United States is said to be up 80 per cent after Armstrong ended his four-year hiatus to compete in this year’s Tour.
After three weeks of epic racing, and a tense co-habitation with Astana teammate Alberto Contador Armstrong finished third overall at 5 minutes 24 seconds behind the Spanish ace on Sunday.
But in the popularity stakes, seven-time champion Armstrong was unbeatable.
Before and after each stage Armstrong’s Astana team bus was surrounded by a large crowd of cycling fans desperate for his autograph and reporters from around the globe eager to hear his comments.
A-list Hollywood stars Robin Williams, Ben Stiller and Matthew McConaughey have all visited him at various stages, which underlines the American’s status as cyling’s superstar.
Armstrong insists he will be back for the 2010 Tour having confirmed he will ride for new cycling outfit Team Radioshack next year as he bids to win an eighth yellow jersey.
But while he has fallen short of his ambition in 2009, the cancer-survivor has given the sport’s profile an immeasurable boost.
Bob Stapleton, team manager of Team Columbia, said: “As far as we are concerned, the more the merrier - Lance more than doubled the market here for the cycling audience worldwide.
“Audiences are supposed to be up 80 per cent, cycling has been on the front page of most papers in the States for every winner, it’s not just been about Lance.
“I think the tide has risen and all cycling’s boats can now go higher than they would have done without him here.”